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The Small Screen ‘Golden Age’ Continues: TV Preview 2015

We are in the proclaimed ‘Golden Age’ of television, where no longer do we wade through lists of the most anticipated films of the year – ready to mark them in our calendars, no, we are too interested in what magic is going to be hitting our small screens in the coming months. We wonder: What characters will we fall in love with? What twists and turns will befall our beloved characters? And what is going to be the next ‘big hit’?

I’m here to help, or not, it depends if any of these TV shows pique your interest, but let’s give it a shot anyway.

Here are the eight shows that could continue the ‘Golden Age’ for another ‘Golden’ year:

1. American Crime

ABC’s new anthology crime drama will no doubt be a topic of conversation in many circles when it reaches its air date. American Crime will focus on race, class, and gender politics after a young couple are murdered in their home in Modesto, California. The show will centre on what happens to the families who are affected by the murder instead of the police’s side. Things get heated when the cops think that the murder was racially charged, which causes different cultures to collide.

American Crime will star Felicity Huffman, Joe Nemmers, Brent Anderson, David Hoflin, Shane Jacobsen, and Emily Warfield.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

It’s not full of the strong film actor converts we have seen so much of recently on TV, however, the strongest talent this time is behind the camera. This show comes from the Oscar winning screenwriter of Twelve Years a Slave, John Ridley. He’s highly skilled at handling multiple ethnicities in a single story as his career has spanned from writing twisted neo-noir thrillers like U-Turn, to the forgotten WWII story, Red Tails, which focused on a group of African American fighter pilots who were segregated during the war because of their ethnicity. Even though he knows how to handle a culturally centred morality tale, Ridley has still got a tough job on his hands.

Many people are skeptical of this series because this could so easily turn into a biased message of racial crimes in the California area; however, Ridley has got ‘bold’ plans for this series: he is going to tackle the subject matter that will avoid favoritism.

Ridley is not going to give just one side of the story, he’s going to shift the point of view between all the different families affected by the murder. Twelve Years a Slave focused on one point of view (Solomon Northup), but American Crime will give each family time to show what they are going through and how they are dealing with the racial conflict between characters. It is a smart move, as it ensures that Ridley is showing the different characters’ beliefs, and not looking at them through a cultural lens of one point of view e.g. the murder victim’s family.

What makes this potentially great is that the show will try and show that different cultures can get along, as after all, we all share the one common trait: we all mourn, a trope that was already explored in the HBO series, The Leftovers.

The Leftovers isn’t the only series American Crime has something in common with though. It’s also great that the series will focus on the characters’ lives instead of the actual crime. The murder will be like the backdrop where everything comes back to it, but it’s the characters that will rip each other’s lives apart as the trial heats up. Just like fellow anthology series True Detective and Fargo did.

I know that racial dramas are in many films today like Selma, Mandela, and The Butler, but with Ridley’s talent and an 11 episode run, this could turn into nail biting TV that is not heavy on gun-toting action, but moral action.

American Crime will air March 5th at 10pm on ABC.

2. Bloodline

“We are not bad people … but we did a bad thing.” Words of warning uttered by Kyle Chandler’s character in Bloodline; Netflix’s first adventure into crime drama territory, the plot follows a family of adult siblings whose secrets and scars are revealed when their black sheep brother returns home.

Bloodline stars Ben Mendelsohn, Kyle Chandler, Jamie McShane. Brandon Larracuente, Linda Cardenelli, and Sam Shepard are also series regulars.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

We take great casts in TV dramas for granted nowadays, and Bloodline looks to continue our lofted expectations. The cleverly cast series will be lead by Kyle Chandler – a woefully underused actor who seems to appear in a lot of big films without having much screen time. He will, no doubt, prove why he should be regarded for more meaty roles when Bloodline airs. He is a gifted technical actor, and always brings a calm presence to even the most intense scenes, and that’s probably the reason he’s often picked to play law officials. That trend looks to continue, as Chandler plays a straight arrow cop in Bloodline, whose dark secrets unfold as his black sheep brother turns up. And who better to play a black sheep/good-for-nothing brother than Ben Mendelsohn? Not many people play manipulative and violent criminals like Mendelsohn, his screen presence always heightens the atmosphere, even though he’s similar to Chandler in that he usually only plays supporting characters, so it’ll be great to see both actors getting more time to chew up scenes.

Everyone is sure to be a solid player in this twist-ridden drama, which is written by some of the best twist writers around: Glenn Kessler and his brother Todd A. Kessler. They both wrote the legal thriller Damages, which was known for its dishonest characters who all lied and cheated to get ahead in a law firm. The result was a cult series that never got the plaudits it deserved. However, it’s not like any of them haven’t been a part of a huge TV success before. Todd A. Kessler wrote for The Sopranos, which was famous for its family drama and believable situations, so the two brothers have got the ground covered when it comes to family conflict.

Both Kessler’s’ said recently in an interview that you should expect more “nuanced writing” as they don’t have to worry about throwing too many clues as to what is going to happen in its pilot because it’s not like TV, where a show will throw cliffhangers to make sure you tune in the next week: this is Netflix, which means the whole season will be made available straight away! We could have our next House of Cards here.

Bloodline will be released on Netflix in March.

3. Westworld

Perhaps 2015’s most anticipated series, Westworld, takes place inside an amusement park where people can go to live out their ‘ultimate fantasies’ in the form of three different time periods: roman times, cowboy times, and medieval times. All the time periods of the park are peopled by robots to provide the most life-like experience possible – that is until the robots malfunction, causing them to go on a murderous rampage killing everyone in sight.

With a dozen award nominations between them, Westworld will star the likes of Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Miranda Otto, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, and Anthony Hopkins.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

Even though we imagine the series won’t get into the slaying of hundreds of holiday makers in the first few episodes, it’s still going to be one heck of an intense ride. The impending dread of the robots malfunctioning will always be in the background – hissing like a snake in a cave – but the intrigue and intensity for the show will come from different aspects of the  original source material which had a lot more to explore.

The 1973 Michael Crichton original had so many themes that it didn’t fully develop (due to the fact that it couldn’t pack everything into a film’s runtime); it means the TV series can delve into those skimmed-over themes, taking more time to examine each one because there are plenty to choose from.

Michael Crichton researched his science thoroughly when he was writing the film original. He managed to predict the rise of artificial intelligence, virtual reality experiences, computer viruses (the first computer virus came only one year after the release of the film) and A.I. ultimately overpowering and outsmarting us. As series showrunner, Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan) stated to Entertainment Weekly recently that the film “goes from one f- ing massive idea to the next.”

So, exploring the many layers of computer intelligence is intriguing but Westworld isn’t just going to be a scientific ride, it’s going to be a scary one to. Human behavior and sin are going to be the most prevalent themes and, according to Nolan, Westworld will make you “stay awake at night” as it will evoke your deepest fears.

This is starting to have the epic feel of Game of Thrones, with both human complexity and robot complexity because as Nolan stated, these robots are smarter than the film as there is more time to delve into how they think. It’s going to take highly skilled writing to pull all these different parts off – especially the science – but never fear, Jonathan Nolan will make it right. You probably already know, but he’s written all of his brother’s films bar Insomnia, and who better to tackle these themes than the creative mind behind Inception and Interstellar?

We sure can’t wait, and neither can HBO programming president, Michael Lombardo, who said the first few scripts were “one of the more exciting we’ve read in a very, very long time.”

Hopefully Westworld can be the first great sci-fi show of this Golden Age, so make sure your diary has this one written in when it airs in the fall on HBO.

4. Fargo – Season Two

Season one of Fargo was an unexpected hit, even though the series boasted the talent of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk, Colin Hanks, Oliver Platt, Adam Goldberg, and Keith Carradine. People were skeptical to start with, because basing a show on the masterpiece that was the 1996 original, Fargo, by Joel and Ethan Coen could have been almost suicidal, especially as the last attempt at turning Fargo into a TV series ended in cancellation immediately after its pilot. However, season one of Fargo defied all odds proving to have smart writing, great acting and its own identity which didn’t borrow too heavily from the original. Fargo subsequently earned itself two Golden Globe wins, meaning a second series was inevitable.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

Season two is flinging us into 1979 Sioux Falls, where Ronald Reagan’s first campaign as president of United States is fully underway, and a young Lou Solverson has returned from Vietnam (Lou Solverson was in Season one, he was Molly’s dad played by Keith Carradine.) Solverson joins the local police only to find himself thrown into the crossfire of a mob war between two rival gangs.

Noah Hawley, the show’s creator, said the this season will have  more of an epic feel and will be more sprawling than last season’s smaller, more Fargo-esque feel. Now though, Hawley has taken inspiration from the noir-ish Coen brother’s’ films like The Man Who Wasn’t There and Miller’s Crossing. Just from this season’s plot description the inspiration from these two films is pretty clear: Miller’s Crossing had an epic feel as two mobs collided, while The Man Who Wasn’t There showed the life of an ordinary barber turned upside down when he became involved with a murder plot. Both tropes will come in to play this season, as the yet again strong cast lead the way.

Jesse Plemons, and Kirsten Dunst play a married couple whose life turns upside down when (The Man Who Wasn’t There influence) due to an unfortunate change in fortune they find themselves embroiled with the escalating mob war (Miller’s Crossing influence). The mob characters go from the likes of an immigrant German who owns a criminal empire through a trucking business (Michael Hogan) who requires Indian servants as he is wheelchair bound, a crime family matriarch (Jean Smart), a county sheriff (Ted Danson), and a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson).

If you want a hint of the scale of chaos to expect, just think back to season one, when Carradine’s Solverson is talking about Sioux Falls 1979, where apparently you could “stack the bodies so high they’d reach the second floor.”

Personally I’m glad Hawley is going for a larger scale conflict, like a lot of shows seem to be doing this year. By creating a larger and grander plot it could provide more tension and dread for the main characters. When season one was at its best, it was in the big moments where all hell breaks loose. For instance Glenn Howerton’s scene when he was tied to a chair and the SWAT stormed in and shot him because they thought he was holding a gun, but Billy Bob Thornton’s character tied it to his hands. Even though Howerton’s character wasn’t likeable, you felt sorry for him because of the harsh way he died; it was probably season one’s tensest moment.

Fargo season two might start entering the realms of Breaking Bad’s vice grip tension if it reaches the heights of its first season – we certainly hope so.

Fargo will hit our small screens again in the fall on FX.

5. Battle Creek

The Breaking Bad and House team come together to bring us a unique cop procedural titled and set in Battle Creek but not actually filmed there. The show takes a look at two detectives with different views on the world who team up and use cynicism, guile, and deception to clean up the streets.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

Just from the trailer it has less of the dark thriller tone of Breaking Bad, or the clever science of the medical drama of House, but feels more in line with an Elmore Leonard story. You’ve got classic Leonard characters ranging from the seemingly perfect cop, the hapless cop, and the street hustling scumbags who are weirdly likeable. Mix those characters with a woefully under-prepared police force and you have great potential for drama and comedy as the cops have to rely on their guile to bring down criminals, not James Bond type gadgets. It’s a fresh mix that has not been seen in the more recent cop procedurals of late. On shows like Hawaii Five-O and CSI, the cops have unlimited gadgets. Battle Creek is steering well clear of this.

I know that this concept isn’t entirely fresh; the ‘cops with differing views’ trick has been done many times, but Gilligan and Shore are highly skilled at turning something old into something unique and offbeat. That’s the main reason they both wanted make this kind of show, to address the cop procedurals decline as serial shows have taken over the Golden Age by the scruff of the neck.

Gilligan spoke recently about how they are going to tackle this kind of story “There will be big crimes and real stakes” which is what Breaking Bad did to a tee “but with a small town personal angle and sense of humor. We’ve said that if a story could appear on ‘CSI’, or ‘Law and Order’ then we won’t tell it.”

Sounds like an interesting angle. Plenty of opportunity for originality in procedurals now, so if Battle Creek can hold true to its early promises, we could have the first great cop procedural for this generation, hopefully following in the footsteps of The Shield. Plus, Gilligan is someone who knows exactly when to end a show on a high note.

Battle Creek will premiere March 1st on CBS.

 

6. Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s untitled HBO rock ‘n’ roll series

‘Boardwalk rock ‘n’ roll’ here we come. The as yet untitled music drama will be penned by The Sopranos writer and Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terrence Winter. This drug, sex, and music-fueled series will follow two record executives in 1970’s New York as they try and find the next ‘big thing’ on the music scene. They witness the emergence of punk, disco, and hip-hop, all the while having a few personal struggles along the way as they unwittingly get involved with the criminal underworld that are a prominent underground figure in the music scene.

Starring Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Juno Temple, Asso Essandoh, James Jagger (Mick Jagger’s son), P.J. Byrne, Max Casella, and Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

Because the team who brought us Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street are back, Martin Scorsese will helm the pilot (and then move to executive producer) and Terence Winter will write the pilot and act as showrunner. They are a great partnership which always seems to provide interesting storylines and complex characters. This time though, the storylines are not just going to be deep, but believable, as Mick Jagger will produce and it is something of a passion project for him.

For a good twenty years Jagger has wanted to get this project off the ground as he pitched to Scorsese back in the 90’s to do a ‘Casino-esque sweeping tale of the music scene in the 70s.’ For reasons unbeknownst to us the project never got off the ground until HBO saw potential in it as a TV series, but unfortunately that meant a beloved show ending early.

Poor old Boardwalk Empire, there had to be a good reason for it to be unceremoniously cancelled – a show with such high standards and acting talent; this rock ‘n’ roll project must be something special but why hire Terence Winter, a man known for writing crime stories, not music drama?

Well New York in the 70’s was almost bankrupt with people losing jobs, and others living on the street; it was an exceptionally tough time and Terence Winter believes that, in a time where things are falling apart, great art can be produced.

Great art can be produced in times of hardship, but when people are desperate for record labels they will go to any length necessary, even if that means dealing with the criminal underworld, which meant the 70s New York struck an all time high in its crime rates.

Yep, that’s right, we can’t have a Scorsese/Winter series without any organized crime/mafia syndicate, we are just swapping the 1940’s commission for some ‘musical mafia’ looking to get rich in a highly profitable industry.

This show seems to have everything; it’s almost getting as much hype as Boardwalk Empire did when it was first released, as it was being dubbed “the flag ship TV drama” but it never quite reached its lofty expectations even though the on screen and off-screen talent was there. And like Boardwalk Empire, this show has all bases covered from, Mick Jagger’s inside knowledge, to Terence Winter’s intricate scene weaving and ear for New York/Jersey dialogue, to Martin Scorsese’s veteran touch and fondness of this genre (he has directed many musical documentaries ranging from Shine a Light, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, and George Harrison: Living in the Material World) and to the unbelievably talented cast. Get ready for this one as it airs sometime late in 2015 on HBO.

7. True Detective – Season Two

This needs no introduction but I’ll give it one anyway. True Detective, the show that crept up on us and proved that Matthew McConaughey can act, and that Woody Harrelson could pout alot, and that Cary Fukanga was one of the most exciting directors working today. It just makes us want to see them all again, but like Fargo, we’re not seeing any of them in True Detective land again. Season two is taking us on a whole new ride, new cast, new setting, but don’t worry because the main/key talent is still here in this series.

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

Even though in season one the performances and moody and atmospheric direction by Cary Fukunaga were amazing, the real star was Nic Pizzolatto’s writing. He has a real knack of writing believable and extremely deep characters where he manages to change both how they think and act according to where they are in their character arc. I know you need good actors for that too, like McConaughey’s notepad he kept full of notes on where his character’s head was at in each individual scene, but the writing is what is going to make season two even more special.

As season one did, season two will be looking to create, as Pizzolatto calls it, “a certain psycho-sphere ambiance of the place.”

Season one’s ambiance and psycho-sphere came from its haunting and surrealistic tone. It was in part thanks to Fukunaga’s direction, but mainly from the highly flawed set of characters whose dark urges were revealed through a fever dream plot. Season two will look at the characters’ lives that are affected by the murder of Ben Caspar, the corrupt city manager of a fictional California city who’s found brutally murdered amid a potentially groundbreaking transportation deal that would forever change freeway gridlock in the state. Three law enforcement officers from different cities and branches of the government are tasked with finding out who did it. They soon discover their investigation has much broader and darker implications than they initially thought. Caspar’s 52-year-old corpse is found on a lonely stretch of Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur. Satanic symbols are etched on his chest, and it turns out he had a penchant for rough sex and may have been involved in the occult. Cue similarities with season one.

So cults and highly flawed characters seem to be a True Detective trademark by now, and so does garnering on screen talent. This time the cast is far larger in terms of film regulars, with the show boasting the likes of Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams, Michael Irby, and Taylor Kitsch. Yes, there are some controversial picks, but otherwise these are actors who are either looking to prove themselves in this genre (Vince Vaughn), or are trying to make a McConaughey type of breakthrough (Taylor Kitsch).

They will all play out in a plot that will probably bring more violence than last year, and a higher body count as this has been described as taking influence from works such as The Big Sleep and The Big Lebowski, which actually took inspiration from The Big Sleep – a bit confusing. But the scripts are certainly not confusing, at least according to Michael Lombardo, who reckons something special is on the way, he said “The two scripts we have – I hate to jinx it – they are more exciting than the first season.”

Could this mean a faster paced, more action packed season? Well if we go by the director for the first two episodes – Justin Lin – who knows how to film visceral action scenes, with his previous work being that of four of the Fast & Furious franchise, it may be safe to assume such things.

Let’s hope we get a trailer of somewhat soon (check out some photos of Colin Farrell that were leaked from the set in L.A) because True Detective has been away from our screens for too long now, but don’t worry, HBO will premiere season two in the summer, so not too much longer, I hope.

8. Happyish

This may ring a bell for many people who recalled this being the half hour comedy starring the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The pilot had been filmed and sadly shortly after, Hoffman passed away, leading many to think it was cancelled. However, Steve Coogan was recast and the pilot was re-shot, which must mean Happyish has big potential.

The main story will be set in a culture that reveres youth – a culture Thom Payne helped create – he needs to figure out what his purpose is now that he’s halfway to death and nobody cares what he thinks; because in a world where any Kardashian is trending up, perhaps the wise among us would heartily embrace trending down. Thom Payne wonders: what is the meaning of happiness?

Why will it continue the Golden Age?

There’s plenty of room for dry and deadpan comedy as the midlife crisis comedies tend to have. Happyish also has a message on how to kick start your life again, if you feel that it is going nowhere. It’s a message that can be relatable to many ages. Which means varying age groups may find plenty to like in his down-to-earth situational comedy.

It’s no surprise Hoffman was chosen for the role, as you need an actor who can portray both comedy and drama in a single moment, and I think Steve Coogan is perfect second choice for this role. Coogan is a master of understated and situational comedy, with his British TV character Alan Partridge being a fine example. However, he can often inject seriousness and subtle signs of depth to his characters that make his characters come to life in the big scenes.

Coogan hasn’t quite taken off in the States, with his American film roles consisting of minor characters in big comedies like Tropic Thunder, Despicable Me 2, The Other Guys, and his one big role, Around the World in Eighty Days, but now is his time to make a splash on the other side of the pond and show the States why he is held in such high esteem in Britain.

For all the crime dramas and cinematic scope in TV nowadays, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see a comedy crop up and take on these big TV juggernauts.

Happyish will debut Sunday April 26 on Showtime.

That’s all from me, I hope I have got you excited and hopefully informed on what’s coming up this year. I’m sure I haven’t got all that is going to surprise us this year, so let me know below what TV series you are looking forward to most in 2015.



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